Autonomy and Opportunity: Carrollton Manor Tenants, 1734-1790
Jeske, Mary Clement
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This dissertation is a study of tenants who rented land on the Carroll family's western Maryland estate, Carrollton Manor, beginning with the settlement of the manor in 1734 and continuing through the era of the American Revolution. Carrollton, located in the fertile Monocacy Valley of Frederick County, offers an ideal opportunity for a case study of tenancy. The area was a crossroads of Maryland, where tobacco and slaves from the tidewater Chesapeake met German grain and livestock farmers from southeastern Pennsylvania. Both of these influences successively permeated the manor. English tenants, tobacco, and slaves initially predominated there, but these later gave way to Germans, the cultivation of wheat, and the employment of free labor. Historians have often assumed tenants to have been poor farmers on the margins of colonial society, and tenancy as evidence of increasing inequality and a lack of economic opportunity. This study demonstrates, however, that tenancy could benefit tenant as well as landlord. Tenancy was a long-term strategy that required many years to produce significant returns, but it ultimately rewarded the Carrolls with a substantial, annual income from the manor. But the tenants benefitted as well, and many individuals, even those with other options, chose to rent land on Carrollton. The tenants were free to manage their plantations with little interference from the Carrolls. They decided what crops to grow on their manor tracts and how to market them, what labor to use, and how to allocate their resources. Although most tenants rented at the will of the landlord without written lease agreements, the Carrolls recognized their right to transfer their tenements to kin or sell their improvements to new entrants. Rents were affordable, and generally tenants were able to keep up with their payments. Most importantly, tenancy gave non-landowners access to land and the ability to become autonomous householders who were able to exercise control over their lives. Tenancy on the manor was variegated, and tenants ranged from the very poor to exceedingly wealthy land- and slaveowners, but on the whole the tenants were remarkably well off. Most never became landowners, but rents on the manor were low compared to the value of the land, and some who could have acquired freeholds instead opted to invest their resources in other ways, especially in the purchase of slave laborers. Not all Carrollton tenants were successful, but those who remained in the vicinity until their death were generally more prosperous than decedents elsewhere in the Chesapeake and, over time they became increasingly affluent.